“I swim in the great open book of the world.” —Waly Salomão
In Algaravias: Echo Chamber, Waly Salomão’s writing contains a multitude of references, or echoes, other writers, languages, and stories from around the world. He includes modern voices like Wallace Stevens and Paul Celan, but running throughout the book is an underlying retelling of Greek mythology. All of these voices and stories can be heard through one thread: the echo. This echo may be of language, thought, sound, or nonsense. This echo may simply be garbled and bouncing off the walls of the chamber of the poet’s mind.
he becomes an echo chamber.
the substance of marrow itself made citation.
The mythical Echo flashes through these poems. In her own story she can only speak the last words spoken to her. She can only say what she has heard, not express how she feels directly. Echo loves Narcissus who loves his own reflection in clear water. The two “speak” as Narcissus speaks to himself, therefore allowing Echo to say his last words. An echo is also a reflection. Echo experiences the same unrequited love that Narcissus does, but he cannot see that. Salomão relates this in a concise fragment:
That Echo turns into Narcissus.
That Echo turns into spring.
The myth of Apollo and Daphne is also embedded in this writing and the story reflects that of Echo and Narcissus. In this myth, Apollo is struck with an arrow and falls in love with Daphne, but the unattainable water nymph nimbly runs away. Eventually, her father Proteus transforms her into a laurel tree. In the end of both myths the characters return their bodies to the earth: Narcissus falls into the water, Echo’s bones become the rocks by the water, Daphne is rooted to the ground as the laurel tree. However, Apollo, the god of music and poetry, survives. He obtains his love, not directly in the form of a physical body, only in the laurel sprig.
In “Persistence of the Romantic Self” Salomão says:
The real is hollow, lame, crippled.
The real stumbles.
The imagination flutters.
I wrote until exhaustion
in the parchment of sleep’s waters.
In these vanished lines in the vortex of wakefulness,
while intoxicated I would hear
with the most accurate absolute pitch,
it seems that I transcribed,
with the exact detail of geometer-mathematician,
in a vivid and changeable clef,
the notes of always the same nightingale.
Writing is experiencing unrequited love. Writing is swimming, running, attempting to grasp the elusive. Traveling over land, being close to the water, staying in one place, these all are unsatisfying in Algaravias: Echo Chamber. “All travel is useless, / I brood at the edge of the enclosed well.” But these stories are used to show how the author strives to obtain his text. Those texts, those words, are just echoes. They cannot be touched. Sounds change depending on the source and the material the sound reverberates off of. Sound can hit liquid, muck, or solid ground. Sound can become louder, be stopped, or ring crystal clear as it hits this mappa mundi, the sheet of the world.
Just like the author cannot catch the perfect love, the translator cannot either. The mythological stories reiterate each other, just as the original manuscript and the translated manuscript echo each other. The sound changes. The content may become slightly different. Translation here exists side-by-side, repeats what one voice has said. The translator must be obsessed with the original text and what it says, in order to say the same thing. The merging of bodies, or a complete oneness, cannot exist. Translating is experiencing unrequited love, as well.
If many echoes travel at once, they can be garbled. The exact sounds branch from different authors and through different languages. The exact sounds cannot be heard at the same time, yet the words mingle together in content as the reader tries to focus on one voice. One echo. Yet, everything in writing, everything in translation, everything in the imagination, everything in the world is an echo.
Salomão does not mention glossolalia, speaking in an unknown language, by name, although it is alluded to in the very first bit of text in the book. Near the end of the text, though, he does references echolalia, or the meaningless repetition of someone else’s words. Salomão’s poems pose several questions, then. Is it meaningless to repeat the noises that we hear? Can we change words and sounds to express what we feel or are we just pointlessly echoing what others have said? At the end of the book, an unexpected voice is heard. It is the loudest in the book. The text is enlarged to focus on Poe’s question, as he references Daphne’s father and sounds much like the tragic Echo.
What is poetry?
Poe’s Proteus may have been flexible and form bending as in the original myth, but Salomão’s Proteus, or poetry, tries to control, tries to change things, tries to rule, but is ultimately unable to change the continuous echo of sound, story, and image.
Echo, Poe, Poetry, Proteus. What is writing, reference, or translation? How many times can I say echo, echo, echo? If asked what is poetry after reading this book again and again, I would have to answer the only way Echo could, with Salomão’s last words: “deus polimorpho/polymorphic god.”
Algaravias: Echo Chamber, by Waly Salomão (trans. by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi). Brooklyn, New York: Ugly Duckling Presse, June 2016. 96 pages. $14.00, paper.
Jayme Russell has two chapbooks forthcoming in 2017: PINKification (Dancing Girl Press) and PINKpoems (Adjunct Press). Her writing can also be found in Black Warrior Review, Diagram, Tiny Donkey, and elsewhere. She received her MA in Poetry from Ohio University and her MFA in Poetry from The University of Notre Dame.